Stuffed Shells with Swiss Chard

It seems like often when we choose a night to have Italian food around our house we focus on either pizza or classic spaghetti.  This is never a problem as my two boys, in particular the youngest, love both and will snack on the leftovers for as many days as there is still something in the fridge.  However, every now and again I like to change it up with something else.  Lasagne is a favorite, but when I went looking through my food storage for lasagne noodles I didn’t have any on hand and I really didn’t feel like going to the store.  This was a bummer, right until I located a box of jumbo shells for stuffing.  Le perfect!

So given that I had shells I went digging for everything else.  No problem when it came to everything for the sauce.  Plenty of ricotta, cheese, eggs…but no spinach.  Now, some folks would argue that you don’t need spinach and that, in fact, the ricotta filling is better without green stuff.  I can’t agree.  I love that little extra chew and the color, but see previous points about not wanting to go to the store.  So I went digging through the fridge to see what I had on hand.  The week before we’d received a nice big bunch of swiss chard in our Bountiful Basket which we still hadn’t used.  Swiss chard is a little more bitter than spinach and more fibrous, but I didn’t see any reason it wouldn’t work just as well.  So I brought a large pot of water to a boil and blanched the chard off for four minutes, yes I timed it, then I drained it very well and chopped the pile up.  It was marvelous and when added to my ricotta mixture it worked beautifully.  The only issue at all was that it turned the filling mildly pink, not that you notice once it’s covered in sauce and the boys just laughed and called it Valentine’s shells.  Totally works for me!

One of the nice things about this recipe is that it freezes very well, so I usually figure if I’m going to make it I’ll make a big batch, one to eat and one to freeze for another time.  So this is the large batch version, you can cut it down for your needs.

Another note…I use UltraGel in both the sauce and the ricotta filling.  This helps keep the whole thing together and keeps both the sauce and filling from going watery in the fridge or freezer.

Stuffed Shells with Swiss Chard

Red Sauce

1-2 lb ground beef

1 medium onion, diced

1 cloves garlic, minced

1 small can mushrooms, or 8 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms

1 small call tomato sauce

48 ounces diced tomatoes

salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, sugar

UltraGel

Brown beef and add onion and garlic cooking until onion is translucent.  Add mushrooms, sauce and tomatoes and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  Add spices to desired flavor and thicken with UltraGel.  For this application you want a fairly stiff sauce.

1 package jumbo shells

Boil shells according to instructions on the box.  Do not over cook.

Ricotta filling

32 ounce Ricotta cheese – I like the lower fat version

1 large bunch of swiss chard blanched and chopped

2 large eggs

1 cup mixed Italian cheeses

salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp oregano or Italian seasoning

2 Tbl UltraGel

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

To assemble:

In a 9×13″ dripper pan layer 1/2-1 cup sauce.  Stuff each cooked shell with 1 1/2-2 Tbl filling and layer over sauce.  Cover with additional sauce and cheese.  To serve immediately:  Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes until hot throughout.  To freeze:  Cover with a layer of plastic wrap, pushing wrap down against the top of the shells, then a layer of tin foil, also pushing down to remove air.  LABEL with contents and date and freeze for upto 6 months.  When ready to serve remove from freezer and thaw for 20-30 minutes before placing in a 375 degree oven until hot throughout.

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